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First Ride: 2004 MV Agusta F4 1000S

With company finances back on track and production delays a thing of the past (for now...), the long awaited F4 1000S is finally, eventually, here. At last...




Long hailed as one of the gorgeous motorcycles ever, MV's F4 family of bikes has suffered from a lack of cc when compared to the competition with its capacity of only 749cc. The F41000s is here to make amends.

I'm tonking along near-empty roads in the hills near MV Agusta's factory at Varese in northern Italy. The blue and silver bullet storms forwards with a gorgeous howl and a vicious burst of acceleration that no previous F4 could match. I'm a bit quick with the throttle exiting one steep hairpin, and the bike jabs forward with an unexpected wheelie. But the …hlins steering damper does its job, and the clip-ons barely twitch before the MV is back under control and heading towards a top speed which - given much more space than I've got - would be close to 190mph.

That's far faster than any MV Agusta streetbike before, and no wonder. Apart from its paintwork and graphics, the F4 1000S looks almost identical to the 750cc four with which MV made its dramatic return back in 1999. But beneath that fairing is a 998cc four-cylinder engine that gives the Italian marque an open-class contender at last.

The arrival of a large-capacity MV four has been postponed many times before. Cagiva's initial four-cylinder project involved an open-class motor, before Claudio Castiglioni revived the MV Agusta name and decided to debut the F4 as a 750, intending to go World Superbike racing. Then came further financial delays. But the F4 1000S is finally in production, just as Castiglioni and design ace Massimo Tamburini always intended.

The new motor retains the 750cc unit's radial 16-valve layout and uses many of its castings. "We developed the 1000cc engine without enormous investment," says Andrea Goggi, the engineer who has been involved with the project for more than a decade (and who tested an 864cc prototype as long ago as 1994). "But we have worked very hard to find performance and save weight. Almost 70% of the internals are new."

That 998cc capacity comes from bore and stroke dimensions of 76 x 55mm, splitting Yamaha's slightly shorter-stroke R1 unit and Honda's longer-stroke Fireblade. Those 76mm pistons are lighter than the smaller F4 750's equivalents. The new motor's con-rods weigh less too. The crankshaft has lost more than 1.2kg; clutch and primary transmission gears are lighter despite being stronger. Claimed max output is 166bhp at 11,750rpm, within a few horsepower of its Japanese rivals.

The new MV's chassis, like its bodywork, is essentially that of the 750. The frame combines chrome-molybdenum steel tubes with cast aluminium sections around the single-sided swing-arm's pivot. This bike's upside-down Marzocchi forks are 50mm in diameter, (the 750S has 49mm units), but angled half-a-degree less steeply at 24.5û.

Other chassis mods include the uprated Sachs shock, which can be tuned for preload by turning an Allen key in an adjuster at its top. Footrests are adjustable, and another neat touch is that the rear sprocket can be replaced without unbolting the rear wheel. The 1000S weighs 192kg dry: hardly obese, but roughly 20kg up on the lightest of the Japanese.

Even before I fired up the motor, I noticed one of the 750's detail flaws has been cured: the new clip-ons no longer squash your thumbs on full lock. The motor started with a gruff bark and, as I left the factory in front of watching mechanics, I was glad I'd used a good handful of revs to pull away. First gear isn't that tall, but there was a flat spot just off idle that could have caused an embarrassing stall if I'd been too eager with the clutch.

Once into its stride, the 1000S took very little time to demonstrate its stunning, free-revving power. Where the F4 750 thrives on revs and requires plenty of tap-dancing on the gear lever to keep it above 9000rpm, the larger motor is much stronger. Up to 5000rpm it's good rather than great so, for slower turns in particular, I still had plenty of excuse to make use of the sweet-changing six-speed box (like the 750's a removable cassette type).

But the bigger motor was in a different league as it kicked hard from about six grand, accompanied by a soulful sound as the radial-valve motor revved with delicious enthusiasm, towards its near-13,000rpm limit. The Weber-Marelli fuel-injection system worked well too, though there was just a hint of snatchiness in the mid-range delivery.

MV's official top speed figure of 186.9mph must make this the fastest ever production bike from outside Japan. I didn't get close to that figure on the digital speedo, but the 1000S is seriously rapid. (And if you need more speed, there's the limited-edition F4 1000 Tamburini on the way, with its variable intake trumpets, 173bhp and £30,000 price tag.)

It was also impossible to gain the full benefit of the F4 1000S's most innovative technical feature on the road. EBS or Engine Brake System is a unique (to streetbikes) way of reducing engine braking on a closed throttle, and works in a different way to mechanical slipper-clutch systems.

"We began by developing a mechanical system but they added weight and were not very durable," says Goggi. "So instead we decided to limit negative torque by generating torque in the opposite direction." When the rider closes the throttle, an air inlet is opened in cylinder two, which continues burning a limited amount. On the 1000S the effect is fixed by injection mapping, but the system has the potential to allow fine-tuning.

"We tried to make it with a two-stroke feel," says Goggi. "In MotoGP, they use a similar system and also mechanical systems. The mechanical system gives most advantage under braking, this type is best mid-corner."

When I was braking and changing down several gears into a turn, there was a welcome lack of complaint from the rear tyre, followed by a tendency to run on slightly through the turn, which took some getting used to. I'm not sure how useful it is on the road, but it could give a worthwhile edge on the track.

Slowing with the brakes alone was no problem, at least once the Nissin front calipers' pads had bedded in. The 1000S is alone in its class in not having radial calipers, which might be a disadvantage for track use. But on the street, the F4 750-style blend of conventional six-pots and 310mm discs gave sharp, controllable stopping.

Handling was equally ace, with the adjustable …hlins steering damper helping to keep me between the hedges skirting the fast, bumpy roads. The MV steered precisely, though in tighter turns it needed more input than expected. Maybe the sticky 70-section front Michelin Pilot Power, rather than the 750's 65-section, had something to do it.

That extra half-a-degree of castor has also added stability to cope with the extra performance. I'm not sure how much it's needed - given more time I would have tried raising the rear slightly to sharpen the steering. The 1000S gives massive scope for tweaking, as the swing-arm's pivot is three-way adjustable, in addition to ride height and full suspension adjustment at both ends.

The fat Marzocchis were firm on their standard settings, which contributed to the bike's taut feel (along with the inevitable slow-speed wrist-ache). The Sachs shock felt about right for my 14 stones, too. Its easily adjustable preload is likely to be useful for the majority of buyers who, on the evidence of 750 sales, will opt for the dual-seat 1000S 1+1 model.

That pillion seat adds an extra £200 to the single-seat 1000S's £14,000 price. That's on a par with Ducati's 999S, so it's no surprise the first batch has sold out. Provided MV's finances keep improving, there should be more arriving during the summer.

VERDICT

I'd need some track time on the 1000S before deciding whether it's a match for some pretty fearsome Japanese and Italian opposition. It's up there scrapping with them, though. There's no doubt that MV has done what was needed, giving the F4 a big motor with some serious horsepower. The result is a bike that finally has the straight-line speed to match its stunning looks and superbly detailed chassis. Whichever way you look at it, that's a hell of a combination.

EVOLUTION:

1978: MV ends production of the Monza 850, its last four-cylinder superbike, and abandons bikes after 37 world championships

1997: Claudio Castiglioni unveils the F4 750, six years after buying the MV Agusta name and a decade after starting development of a four-cylinder engine with Ferrari

1999: F4 750 production finally starts, but stops two years later due to financial problems

2003: MV starts production of naked Brutale under 'controlled administration' after two years of very limited production

2004: Production of F4 1000S starts as Castiglioni continues negotiations with Malaysian car giant Proton, which has signed a letter of intent to buy 50% of the MV group

RIVALS:

Benelli Tornado RS: This year the tasty triple gets …hlins suspenders, radial brakes and is slightly cheaper than the MV

Ducati 999S: Middle option of the Duke 999 triumvirate has hotted-up 136bhp motor, uprated suspension and lots of track pedigree

Yamaha YZF-R1: Arguably the best and most stylish of this year's awesome Japanese crop, and nearly five grand cheaper than the MV

SPECS

TYPE - SUPERSPORTS

PRODUCTION DATE - 2004

PRICE NEW - £14,000

ENGINE CAPACITY - 998cc

POWER - 166bhp@11,750rpm

TORQUE - 80lb.ft@10,200rpm

WEIGHT - 192kg

SEAT HEIGHT - 810mm

FUEL CAPACITY - 21L

TOP SPEED - 185mph

0-60 - n/a

TANK RANGE - N/A

Long hailed as one of the gorgeous motorcycles ever, MV's F4 family of bikes has suffered from a lack of cc when compared to the competition with its capacity of only 749cc. The F41000s is here to make amends.
I'm tonking along near-empty roads in the hills near MV Agusta's factory at Varese in northern Italy.

The blue and silver bullet storms forwards with a gorgeous howl and a vicious burst of acceleration that no previous F4 could match. I'm a bit quick with the throttle exiting one steep hairpin, and the bike jabs forward with an unexpected wheelie. But the Öhlins steering damper does its job, and the clip-ons barely twitch before the MV is back under control and heading towards a top speed which - given much more space than I've got  - would be close to 190mph.

That's far faster than any MV Agusta streetbike before, and no wonder. Apart from its paintwork and graphics, the F4 1000S looks almost identical to the 750cc four with which MV made its dramatic return back in 1999. But beneath that fairing is a 998cc four-cylinder engine that gives the Italian marque an open-class contender at last.

The arrival of a large-capacity MV four has been postponed many times before. Cagiva's initial four-cylinder project involved an open-class motor, before Claudio Castiglioni revived the MV Agusta name and decided to debut the F4 as a 750, intending to go World Superbike racing. Then came further financial delays. But the F4 1000S is finally in production, just as Castiglioni and design ace Massimo Tamburini always intended.

The new motor retains the 750cc unit's radial 16-valve layout and uses many of its castings. "We developed the 1000cc engine without enormous investment," says Andrea Goggi, the engineer who has been involved with the project for more than a decade (and who tested an 864cc prototype as long ago as 1994). "But we have worked very hard to find performance and save weight. Almost 70% of the internals are new."

That 998cc capacity comes from bore and stroke dimensions of 76 x 55mm, splitting Yamaha's slightly shorter-stroke R1 unit and Honda's longer-stroke Fireblade. Those 76mm pistons are lighter than the smaller F4 750's equivalents. The new motor's con-rods weigh less too. The crankshaft has lost more than 1.2kg; clutch and primary transmission gears are lighter despite being stronger. Claimed max output is 166bhp at 11,750rpm, within a few horsepower of its Japanese rivals.

The new MV's chassis, like its bodywork, is essentially that of the 750. The frame combines chrome-molybdenum steel tubes with cast aluminium sections around the single-sided swing-arm's pivot. This bike's upside-down Marzocchi forks are 50mm in diameter, (the 750S has 49mm units), but angled half-a-degree less steeply at 24.5°.

Other chassis mods include the uprated Sachs shock, which can be tuned for preload by turning an Allen key in an adjuster at its top. Footrests are adjustable, and another neat touch is that the rear sprocket can be replaced without unbolting the rear wheel. The 1000S weighs 192kg dry: hardly obese, but roughly 20kg up on the lightest of the Japanese.

Even before I fired up the motor, I noticed one of the 750's detail flaws has been cured: the new clip-ons no longer squash your thumbs on full lock. The motor started with a gruff bark and, as I left the factory in front of watching mechanics, I was glad I'd used a good handful of revs to pull away. First gear isn't that tall, but there was a flat spot just off idle that could have caused an embarrassing stall if I'd been too eager with the clutch.

Once into its stride, the 1000S took very little time to demonstrate its stunning, free-revving power. Where the F4 750 thrives on revs and requires plenty of tap-dancing on the gear lever to keep it above 9000rpm, the larger motor is much stronger. Up to 5000rpm it's good rather than great so, for slower turns in particular, I still had plenty of excuse to make use of the sweet-changing six-speed box (like the 750's a removable cassette type).

But the bigger motor was in a different league as it kicked hard from about six grand, accompanied by a soulful sound as the radial-valve motor revved with delicious enthusiasm, towards its near-13,000rpm limit. The Weber-Marelli fuel-injection system worked well too, though there was just a hint of snatchiness in the mid-range delivery.

MV's official top speed figure of 186.9mph must make this the fastest ever production bike from outside Japan. I didn't get close to that figure on the digital speedo, but the 1000S is seriously rapid. (And if you need more speed, there's the limited-edition F4 1000 Tamburini on the way, with its variable intake trumpets, 173bhp and £30,000 price tag.)

It was also impossible to gain the full benefit of the F4 1000S's most innovative technical feature on the road. EBS or Engine Brake System is a unique (to streetbikes) way of reducing engine braking on a closed throttle, and works in a different way to mechanical slipper-clutch systems.

"We began by developing a mechanical system but they added weight and were not very durable," says Goggi. "So instead we decided to limit negative torque by generating torque in the opposite direction." When the rider closes the throttle, an air inlet is opened in cylinder two, which continues burning a limited amount. On the 1000S the effect is fixed by injection mapping, but the system has the potential to allow fine-tuning.

"We tried to make it with a two-stroke feel," says Goggi. "In MotoGP, they use a similar system and also mechanical systems. The mechanical system gives most advantage under braking, this type is best mid-corner."

When I was braking and changing down several gears into a turn, there was a welcome lack of complaint from the rear tyre, followed by a tendency to run on slightly through the turn, which took some getting used to. I'm not sure how useful it is on the road, but it could give a worthwhile edge on the track. Slowing with the brakes alone was no problem, at least once the Nissin front calipers' pads had bedded in. The 1000S is alone in its class in not having radial calipers, which might be a disadvantage for track use. But on the street, the F4 750-style blend of conventional six-pots and 310mm discs gave sharp, controllable stopping.

Handling was equally ace, with the adjustable Öhlins steering damper helping to keep me between the hedges skirting the fast, bumpy roads. The MV steered precisely, though in tighter turns it needed more input than expected. Maybe the sticky 70-section front Michelin Pilot Power, rather than the 750's 65-section, had something to do it.

That extra half-a-degree of castor has also added stability to cope with the extra performance. I'm not sure how much it's needed - given more time I would have tried raising the rear slightly to sharpen the steering. The 1000S gives massive scope for tweaking, as the swing-arm's pivot is three-way adjustable, in addition to ride height and full suspension adjustment at both ends.

The fat Marzocchis were firm on their standard settings, which contributed to the bike's taut feel (along with the inevitable slow-speed wrist-ache). The Sachs shock felt about right for my 14 stones, too. Its easily adjustable preload is likely to be useful for the majority of buyers who, on the evidence of 750 sales, will opt for the dual-seat 1000S 1+1 model.

That pillion seat adds an extra £200 to the single-seat 1000S's £14,000 price. That's on a par with Ducati's 999S, so it's no surprise the first batch has sold out. Provided MV's finances keep improving, there should be more arriving during the summer.

VERDICT

I'd need some track time on the 1000S before deciding whether it's a match for some pretty fearsome Japanese and Italian opposition. It's up there scrapping with them, though. There's no doubt that MV has done what was needed, giving the F4 a big motor with some serious horsepower. The result is a bike that finally has the straight-line speed to match its stunning looks and superbly detailed
chassis. Whichever way you look at it, that's a hell of a combination.

EVOLUTION:

1978: MV ends production of the Monza 850, its last four-cylinder superbike, and abandons bikes after 37 world championships
1997: Claudio Castiglioni unveils the F4 750, six years after buying the MV Agusta name and a decade after starting development of a four-cylinder engine with Ferrari
1999: F4 750 production finally starts, but stops two years later due to financial problems
2003: MV starts production of naked Brutale under 'controlled administration' after two years of very limited production
2004: Production of F4 1000S starts as Castiglioni continues negotiations with Malaysian car giant Proton, which has signed a letter of intent to buy 50% of the MV group

RIVALS:

Benelli Tornado RS: This year the tasty triple gets Öhlins suspenders, radial brakes and is slightly cheaper than the MV.
Ducati 999S: Middle option of the Duke 999 triumvirate has hotted-up 136bhp motor, uprated suspension and lots of track pedigree.
Yamaha YZF-R1: Arguably the best and most stylish of this year's awesome Japanese crop, and nearly five grand cheaper than the MV.

2004 MV Agusta F4 1000S

TYPE - SUPERSPORTS
PRODUCTION DATE - 2004
PRICE NEW - £14,000
ENGINE CAPACITY - 998cc
POWER - 166bhp@11,750rpm
TORQUE - 80lb.ft@10,200rpm   
WEIGHT - 192kg
SEAT HEIGHT - 810mm   
FUEL CAPACITY - 21L
TOP SPEED - 185mph
0-60 - n/a
TANK RANGE - N/A